The Sefas Emes (Pinchos 5640 & 5663) writes that the reason Klal Yisroel was counted in Parshas Pinchos is because the parsha describes the changes that took place as Moshe Rabbeinu passed the leadership of the nation to Yehoshua, which, in effect, ended the period of the generation that had left Mitzrayim and the ascendency of the generation that was to inherit Eretz Yisroel.
The passing of Moshe Rabbeinu and the installation of Yehoshua was a turning point in our history. The hanhogah of Torah Shebiksav under the leadership of Moshe was ending to be replaced with the hanhogah of Torah Shebaal Peh under the leadership of Yehoshua. Moshe received the Torah from Hashem Himself, while Yehoshua received it from Moshe.
With this, we can understand the Gemara (Bava Basra 75a) that relates that the elders of that generation were upset when the mantle of leadership was given to Yehoshua. They said, “Pnei Moshe kifnei hachamah, Moshe’s face was like the sun, pnei Yehoshua kifnei levanah, but Yehoshua’s is like the moon. Oy le’oso bushah, oy lah le’oso klimah. What a shame. What a disgrace.”
Just as the light of the moon is a reflection of the sun’s light, Torah Shebaal Peh is the source light of Torah Shebiksav, because Torah Shebaal Peh is all derived from Torah Shebiksav. The elders of the dor hamidbar were upset with the change and diminution. “Oy,” they expressed their longing for the original light and the essence of Torah, not its reflection, as great and as powerful as it is.
Yehoshua was not as great as Moshe, but he dedicated his life to his rebbi and his teachings. The posuk in Shemos (33:11) testifies, “Yehoshua bin Nun naar lo yomish mitoch ha’ohel.” Though he may not have been the greatest scholar at the time, Yehoshua was constantly learning from – and serving – the rebbi of Klal Yisroel. It was because of this levanah-esque quality that he was appointed to lead following the passing of Moshe.
Hashem called Yehoshua (Bamidbar 27:18), “ish asher ruach bo,” a man with spirit. Rashi explains that not only was he a person with “spirit,” but he also had the strength to withstand the “ruach,” the whims of others.
Yehoshua’s leadership emanated from his ability to ignore the naysayers and those who were diverging from the proper path. Because he had a strong inner spirit and was dedicated to the teachings of his rebbi, acting responsibly and forthrightly, he and Pinchos were elevated to high positions.
All of Am Yisroel saw Zimri commit his act, and not knowing how to react, they stood at the entrance of the Ohel Moed and cried (Bamidbar 25:6-7). However, when Pinchos witnessed the crime, he alone remembered the halacha and, with Moshe’s permission and mesirus nefesh, he arose from the crowd and did what had to be done. Thus ended the plague that had consumed 24,000 Jews.
Pinchos earned eternal kehunah, leadership and life because he remembered what Moshe had taught and was prepared to sacrifice his life to fulfill his rebbi’s teaching and be mekadeish Sheim Shomayim.
Since the passing of Moshe, we have been experiencing a steadily diminishing essential light and need to acclimate ourselves to an increasingly dark reality. The light of the moon is not as illuminating as the light of the sun, but it does shine and light up the darkness of night, as do the leaders in golus who cleave to the rabbeim of the previous generation and the mesorah they transmitted to us.
Although we lost the sun of Torah Shebiksav and Moshe, we were still blessed with the sun of the Shechinah and kedusha as long as the Mishkon and Botei Mikdosh were with us. On Shivah Assar B’Tammuz, we commemorated the beginning of the process that led to the loss of the Shechinah’s earthly home, where our people experienced extraordinary miracles and brought korbanos to cleanse and purify themselves. With the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, we lost the center of kedusha in our world. From that time onward, we have relied on less substantial replacements.
Since the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, we have been forced to find our way back to Hakadosh Boruch Hu without the benefit of the mizbei’ach and a korban. Klal Yisroel has since adapted to a world of hester, where Hashem’s presence is hidden from us.
With this in mind, we can appreciate the significance of the Torah’s declaration that as a reward for his single-minded act that succeeded in removing Hashem’s wrath, Pinchos earned the blessings of shalom and kehunah.
This is because the role of removing Hashem’s anger from Am Yisroel is the specific mission of the kohanim. By offering korbanos in the Bais Hamikdosh, they created harmony in the cosmos and shleimus in the world. Sin creates a division between the Jewish people and Hashem, while teshuvah and korbanos remove the division and bring the Creator and His nation back together.
The silence of the Bnei Yisroel in the face of Zimri’s deed spawned a plague. Twenty-four thousand died because no one protested Zimri’s act. Finally, Pinchos, acting in accordance with a halacha v’ein morin kein, jeopardized his life and future to stop the plague. By removing its cause, he reconnected the Bnei Yisroel with their Creator. The reward and result of his action was to be granted kehunah, because he had demonstrated that he was worthy of the sacred calling of those who repair the relationship between Hashem and His people.
Perhaps this is why this parsha is read each year at the onset of the Three Weeks. Although we no longer have the Bais Hamikdosh and we lack the avodah of the kohanim, we can learn from the example set by Pinchos.
Everyone is able to learn from the lone individual who stepped forth from the crowd and acted to remove the Divine wrath that has kept us in golus since the churban.
We have no shemesh, and sometimes it appears like we have no levanah. People despair because we are lacking illumination. But instead of complaining, we should learn from Yehoshua and keep our spirits awake, sensitive and attuned to opportunities to achieve great things, helping others beruchniyus and begashmiyus.
There are many opportunities to create a kiddush Hashem in a world full of the opposite. We can help build Torah and support lomdei Torah, who bring light to the world. We can help the poor and the abused, and work to achieve justice, as the posuk states, “Tzion bemishpot tipodeh.” At a time of negative publicity, we can work to conduct ourselves in a way that will cause others to remark how wonderful the ways of those who study and observe Torah are.
Rav Michoel Ber Weissmandl, the famed Nitra rosh yeshiva and Holocaust hero, lost his wife and five children to the Nazis. After the war, he moved to America, remarried, and had five children. The bris of his fifth child born in America was understandably very emotional for him. As he spoke at that occasion, he quoted from the last piyut that is recited on Shabbos Parshas Poroh: “Vechol asher yeish bema’aloh yeish bematoh… bonim mul bonim… kedoshim mul kedoshim… makdishim mul makdishim… ukedushah lekadosh meshalshim.”
What do those words mean?
Rav Weissmandl cried out with great emotion, “I had five children who were mekadeish Hashem. They are now in ma’alah. They died as kedoshim, who were mekadeish Hashem. I pray that just as those bonim died as kedoshim, mekadshei Hashem, the fifth child, for whom I have now merited to perform a bris, along with his siblings who are with us lematah, will be mul those who are lemaaloh.”
He pleaded to merit children who are kedoshim, mekadshei Hashem with their lives, as the previous five were mekadeish Hashem with their deaths.
Following the recital of the aforementioned paragraph on Shabbos Parshas Poroh, the congregation and chazzan call out, “Nekadeish es shimcha ba’olam kesheim shemakdishim osoh bishmei marom. We will sanctify the name of Hashem in our world the same way those who are now in Heaven sanctify it.”
Rav Weissmandl told his listeners, “Let us all cry out together, ‘Nekadeish es shimcha ba’olam kesheim shemakdishim osoh bishmei marom.’ Let us all resolve to be mekadshei Hashem, to live lives of kiddush Hashem.”
That baby, who was named Menachem Meir, grew up to be the rov of the Nitra kehillah in Monsey, a well-known and admired rov who is mekadeish Hashem in all he does. I heard the story from him.
Not only Holocaust survivors, whose every mitzvah following that awful period was a kiddush Hashem, and not only their children have the ability and obligation to be mekadeish sheim Shomayim, but so do all of us.
One of the most enduring speeches of modern Jewish history was delivered by one of the clearest thinkers of the past century. Rav Elchonon Wasserman’s mission in life was to be a melamed, to set young bochurim on the path of understanding, appreciating and growing in Torah learning, as they made their journey through the yeshiva system. His clarity of mind and insightful analysis still light the way for new generations of lomdei Torah.
On Sunday afternoon, 11 Tammuz, July 6, 1941, Rav Elchonon was led to his death together with other gedolei Torah and ehrliche Yidden at Kovno’s infamous Ninth Fort. Rav Elchonon addressed those with him whom the Lithuanian Nazis had arrested, sharing poignant words that echo through time.
“It appears,” he said, “that in Shomayim they consider us tzaddikim, because our bodies have been chosen to atone for Klal Yisroel. Therefore, we must immediately do teshuvah. We don’t have much time. The Ninth Fort is nearby. We will be better korbanos if we do a proper teshuvah, and that way we will be able to save the lives of our American brothers and sisters.
“Let us not have any machsheves pigul, foreign thoughts that could render an offering unfit. We will soon fulfill the greatest mitzvah of all. Yerushalayim was destroyed through fire, and in fire she will be rebuilt. The fire that consumes our bodies will one day rebuild the Jewish people.”
Rav Elchonon – described by an eyewitness as bearing the countenance of a “malach Elokim” – and the rest of the Jews were led to the Ninth Fort, where they were slaughtered in a hail of bullets. Their mesirus nefesh, their kiddush sheim Shomayim, and their becoming korbanos saved multitudes of other Jews from death. Like Pinchos of old, Rav Elchonon and the victims of the Kovno ghetto seized the moment to remove Hashem’s anger.
We are all familiar with the moving Chazal of how Yaakov Avinu elected to bury his wife Rochel alone on the side of the road, rather than in Chevron, alongside the other avos and imahos. His reasoning was that when her broken and devastated children would be exiled by Nevuzaradun, they would pass their mother’s kever. Passing her resting place, they would perhaps be uplifted. They would daven and cry out before her tomb, knowing that she would intercede on their behalf. Indeed, she would, as the posuk states, “Rochel mevakoh al boneha.”
Yaakov Avinu buried Rochel there, instead of alongside of him and her sister Leah, as well as with the other three couples in the Me’oras Hamachpeilah, so that she would be in position to help her children many years later. This message gave strength to those exiles, as a call to each of them to demonstrate self-sacrifice for the good of Klal Yisroel.
Rochel’s descendant, Esther Hamalkoh, sacrificed for her people. She forfeited her own olam hazeh, marrying a rasha to save her people. She was even prepared to die on their behalf, as she uttered, “Ka’asher ovadeti ovodeti.” As she entered the room of the hateful king, she whispered, “It’s not about me.”
Today, we need to seize these examples, finding ways to stand tall. We cannot be content when our brothers and sisters are suffering. We have to feel their pain and do something to alleviate it. We cannot be affected by the general apathy and negativity. We have to learn from the example of Pinchos, as studied in this week’s parsha.
As we experience the three weeks of churban, the words of Rav Weismmandl should resonate in our minds, prompting us to do what is right, even when it is uncomfortable. Remembering the tragedies that befell our people during these weeks reminds us of what we must do. Reading this week’s parsha empowers us, as it lays out our obligation, directing us with regard to what we must do if we want to remove Hashem’s wrath and achieve redemption.
Nekadeish es shimcha ba’olam kesheim shemakdishim osoh bishmei marom.
Let us do what we can to bring the day closer when the weeks of mourning will become days of celebration with the arrival of Moshiach.